Witnesses claim massive blast caused by missile

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Witnesses claim massive blast caused by missile

MYSTERY deepened yesterday around the massive explosion that ripped through a chemical plant on the outskirts of Toulouse last Friday, leaving 29 people dead, over 2,500 injured and thousands more homeless.

The official explanation, that it was an accident is being challenged by witnesses, chemical experts and the media, who lean towards a deliberate attack on the AZF factory, France’s largest producer of fertilisers.

Witnesses cited in the daily Le Figaro yesterday say they saw a flash of light moving towards the factory, quickly followed by a small explosion and then the second, devastating, blast.

An 18-year-old hairdresser named only as "Emilie" who lived less than 200yd from the factory was in the garden just before the blast. "Suddenly, I saw a sort of flash, like a shaft of light, heading towards the factory warehouse in the space of just a few seconds. There was a first explosion. Panic-stricken, I took refuge in my bedroom and put my head under the covers. Almost immediately, there was a massive blast."

Her father, an electrician and fire officer at a neighbouring explosives factory, saw the same thing - "a sort of projectile flying at a good height over the roof-tops". Their accounts were confirmed by Emilie’s brother and other factory employees.

However, Emilie and her family told Le Figaro her father’s and brother’s statements have been ignored. "The police already believed only in the theory of an accident. However, lots of people in Toulouse are thinking it and we saw it: it was a terrorist attack and nothing else," she told the daily.

Experts have also called into question the authorities’ insistence on accidental causes. Louis Médard, an engineer, has analysed the world’s ten worst explosions over the last 80 years. He concludes these disasters "have always been the result of an explosive charge in a hardened substance or of a prolonged fire ... in confined conditions". However, as Le Figaro and Le Monde have both pointed out, there was no fire in the warehouse before the blast.

As for an explosive charge, the manager of the AZF factory, Serge Biechlin told Le Figaro: "The remains of all sensitive equipment located near the warehouse were inspected after the blast - not one of them had exploded. If there was a projectile, it could only have come from outside the factory."

Investigators have referred to the "compost effect", saying that heat at the base of the 200 to 300 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in the warehouse could have triggered the explosion. The heat could have been generated by decomposing nitrates mixed with impurities which acted as a catalyst. However, temperatures inside the warehouse would have had to reach at least 150C to set off an explosion, and this would have activated the heat detectors.

Susan Bell In Paris Saturday, 29th September 2001 The Scotsman


-- Rich Marsh (marshr@airmail.net), September 29, 2001

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